Ageing stars hope to sparkle for Mumbai Indians

With all 27 members of its squad fit and available – or so it seems for now – the Mumbai Indians is well-placed to prove the last season as an aberration.

Captain Rohit Sharma is coming off an extended injury lay-off following a thigh surgery.   -  Vivek Bendre

The rigours of international cricket are taking its toll on the Indian Premier League. The stars from some of the other teams are falling on the wayside like nine-pins. But that hasn't affected the Mumbai Indians' galaxy as the two-time champion has started to descend on its den, the Wankhede Stadium, from various nooks and corners of the globe.

With all 27 members of its squad fit and available – or so it seems for now – the Mumbai Indians is well-placed to prove the last season as an aberration. After making the cut for Play-offs for six years in succession, a run that fetched it its twin titles and another appearance in the final, Rohit Sharma's boys faltered last year.

No wonder then that the squad has seen a minor reshuffle to the 2016 group. The season will mark the return of Mitchell Johnson, the fiery Australian pacer, and Saurabh Tiwary, the Jharkhand jammer who was catapulted into India's ODI squad thanks to his heroics in the MI Blues at the start of the team's dream run.

The biggest change, however, has been off the field. Ricky Ponting may have parted ways with Mumbai Indians set-up. But the management has continued its tradition of appointing legends of the game as coaching staff members by roping in Sri Lanka great Mahela Jayawardene as the head coach. It would be interesting to see how he would gel with the change room.

Will the team click?

Despite the availability of all the players, there obviously remain more than a few doubts in the MI camp, at least in the initial stage of the tournament. Not only because of the team's repeated struggles early on in the IPL but more so due to the question marks over fitness and form of some of its big names.

Captain Rohit Sharma is coming off an extended injury lay-off following a thigh surgery. As if that wasn't a concern enough, Rohit had to pull out of the last week's Deodhar Trophy owing to a troublesome knee. The only other consistent scorer of last year, Ambati Rayudu, too is getting back to his best after a knee injury that had sidelined him for well over six months.

Kieron Pollard has had a forgettable outing in West Indies' first two Twenty20 Internationals against Pakistan, while Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have drifted towards the fag end of their careers. No surprises then that MI has created a strong back-up for the triumvirate with Johnson – who will most likely have to wait for his chance with Mitchell McClenaghan and Tim Southee having fared exceedingly well in Malinga's absence last year, with Lankan all-rounder Asela Gunaratne and leggie Karn Sharma also in the fold.

If the bench sizzles and Rohit-Rayudu get some sort of support from the other domestic batsmen, MI could well hope to live up to its tag of favourites and make history by becoming the first team to win three IPL titles come May 21.

X-factor: Late-bloomers. That tag, thanks to the Mumbai Indians' ability to bounce back at the end of the tournament, has been instrumental in the team making it to the Play-offs in the recent years. In 2014 and 2015, the team hardly dropped any points at the business end to make up for a mediocre start and surge into the last four.

The squad: Rohit Sharma (captain), Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Gopal, K. Gowtham, Kulwant Khejroliya, Vinay Kumar, Siddhesh Lad, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Parthiv Patel, Deepak Punia, Nitish Rana, Ambati Rayudu, Jitesh Sharma, Karn Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, J. Suchith, Saurabh Tiwary (India), Jos Buttler (England), Asela Gunaratne, Lasith Malinga (Sri Lanka), Mitchell Johnson (Australia), Mitchell McClenaghan, Tim Southee (New Zealand), Kieron Pollard, Nicholas Pooran, Lendl Simmons (West Indies).

Best finishes: Winner (2013); Winner (2015); Runner-up (2010).